2/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
EAST EARL, Pa. — Happy cows have happy hooves.
Hoof problems can be costly and painful to the cow and her owners. At the Pennfield Producer Meeting on Tuesday at Shady Maple, dairy farmers participated in a hands-on hoof health clinic to learn about hoof mechanics and how to identify problems.
Jeffrey DeFrain from Zinpro said farmers should follow a three-step process regarding hoof health — motivate, diagnose and prevent.
Farmers should be motivated to avoid hoof problems because the costs can add up. Statistically, a lame cow will take longer to breed, will lose milk production and, if culled, will produce less beef. Then there are the costs to treat hoof problems or supply a replacement heifer.
“And improper treatment can be even more expensive,” he said.
DeFrain said it’s important to be able to diagnose early signs of lameness. The sooner the symptoms are caught, the faster the cow can be treated.
Locomotion scores rank from 1 to 5. About 80 percent of the herd should have a score of 1 or 2, which indicate a normal gait where the back hoof lands close to where the front hoof picks up, a straight back and little head movement.
A score of 3 indicates more head movement, a slight arch in the back and hooves placed farther apart. This is a cow that needs early treatment but can be hard to spot because, DeFrain said, she tends to be in the middle of a group of cows when heading to the parlor or pasture.
The key to finding these cows is to watch the foot placement, looking for distinct differences in how each cow moves compared with the other cows in the herd.
“Everyone needs to find lameness,” he said. “At 3, we have the opportunity to fix this cow.”
DeFrain showed several videos of cows walking to demonstrate his points. Cows scoring 4 and 5 will stand out because their gaits have become impeded, requiring extra labor to move from place to place.
Cows scoring a 5, he said, have a very low chance for making it back into the herd.
Studies show that a cow with no lameness produces nearly double the milk produced by cows with severe cases of lameness.
DeFrain focused on three typical hoof diseases found on farms. Two are nutrition or environment related — sole ulcers or white-line disease. Once a cow has either disease, it will cost $300 to $400 in treatments.
He said nutrition is often “thrown under the bus” as the cause of these problems, but he advised the audience to walk around the barn and look at the surfaces cows walk on, along with cow comfort and cow habits.
White-line disease can also result from poor foot trimming.
The third disease, digital dermatitis, is an infection commonly called strawberry heel wart. It costs less, only $100, but if one case is found, there are most likely others in the herd.
DeFrain suggested that farmers should document the cases that are found when the hoof trimmer is in so they can get a handle on what hoof problems they have and focus on providing care.
By scoring cows and keeping records, the goal will be to develop protocols to address hoof health bottlenecks he said.
Sole ulcers can be a problem in transition cows, he said, and the best solution is to get the cow off her feet.
Cows on average will spend four hours eating, half an hour drinking water, two hours socializing and 12 hours resting if they’re provided comfortable places to lie down, he said.
The time a cow spends standing waiting to be milked is the one point in the day where the farmer has the most influence on what a cow does.
DeFrain said the key is the less a cow has to stand, the greater the risk of an ulcer is reduced. He also said that overgrown “toes” will put the hoof off balance and increase the risk of ulcers.
Preventing strawberry heel wart is a function of the immune system, hygiene and foot baths.
DeFrain reminded the audience that the largest organ on a cow is skin, and if the skin is compromised, for example by lesions, there is a greater risk.
He spoke at length about foot-bath management, and how a poorly managed or dirty foot bath can cause more harm than good.
He also suggested making the foot bath slightly narrower and longer to get more dunks of the hooves through the treatment.